Back in August I made a trip across the pond to Merrie Olde England. Here is Part Two of my exploits.
The second leg of my journey after visiting Brighton for their Annual Gay Pride Celebration was a few days in London. I LOVE London! Like New Orleans, it is a well-balanced mixture of old and new, just in their case, their old is very old. There is something to be said about being in one of the most cosmopolitan and historic cities in the world. We made it to London, after a lovely trip through the English countryside, bright and early from Brighton via private car service as the trains were still on strike.
We arrived in central London and checked into the Conrad London St. James. Located in the former Queen Anne’s Chambers, their 19th-century building is right by Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and Buckingham Palace. This hotel is probably one of the nicest hotels I have ever stayed in. I mean you are treated like royalty from the moment you enter the lobby. The hotel and the people who work there are the epitome of elegance, and the majority of their staff all seem to have stepped out of a copy of GQ Magazine.
The hotel also has a world-class collection of contemporary art starting with a fabulous sculpture in their lobby, The Ladder To by Tasmanian artist Tom Clark, which portrays a worker climbing a ladder, symbolizing the pursuit of success through political engagement and empowerment. Another of my favorite artworks was The House Always Wins by Evil Ed and Dan Robotic. It’s an arena filled with sci-fi creatures and demons meant to depict politicians in the House of Commons.
We were able to check in right away and my room was just fantastic. The rooms are very spacious with a large work/desk area, which was great for me. The bathroom was my favorite part, all marble with a rain shower in the center and Mojave Ghost shampoo, conditioner and soap. If you have not tried Mojave Ghost, it’s pretty lovely. It smells and feels like luxury. When I got home, I decided I was going to buy the fragrance in cologne form, but I have to admit, it’s so expensive. So I truly only wear it on those special occasions when I want to feel fancy.
Being in London only a few days, there was no time to waste. So Valerie Landry, Matt Patin and I freshened up, dropped off our bags and were off sightseeing. We went to the Tower of London first because who doesn’t want to see a torture chamber? The Tower is a historic castle on the North bank of the Thames River. It served as a secure fortress, a royal palace and infamous prison.
It was surreal to be in a place that was founded toward the end of 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest. The White Tower, which gives the entire castle its name, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078. The castle was also used as a prison from 1100 until 1952, although that was not its primary purpose. As a whole, the Tower is a complex of several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls and a moat. There were several phases of expansion, mainly under kings Richard I, Henry III, and Edward I in the 12th and 13th centuries. The general layout established by the late 13th century remains despite later activity on the site.
This place was incredible and a must-see when in London, but give yourself time to view everything. We only focused on two of the buildings, the torture chamber because, yes, I am very dark, and the crown jewels because I am very gay. I even wore one of my Mardi Gras tiaras when I was viewing the crown jewels. I mean they may be worth millions, but Dynasty Collections in Mobile give them a run for their money in aesthetics. I mean I have had better Mardi Gras costumes than some of the past Royals. As far as the torture chambers, it’s funny how the devices to torture prisoners pretty much resemble some of the exercise machines in the gym today.
We just soaked in all the history on our first day because our next stop was a tour of Buckingham Palace. I did not know that Buckingham Palace was not available to tour year around, just from July through September and a few scattered dates throughout the year. So we lucked out.
The self-guided tour was pretty amazing. The State Rooms on the tour were the White Drawing Room, The Throne Room (my favorite for obvious reasons), The Ballroom, The Music Room, The Picture Gallery, The Grand Staircase and ending with the Palace Garden. It’s impressive getting to view the home of the monarch, the focus of national and royal celebrations, as well as the backdrop to the regular Changing of the Guard ceremony.
The major works of art alone in just the rooms we got to see were worth millions and just breathtaking. You can get lost in there for hours so give yourself enough time to explore. And as any good tourist attraction goes, you end the tour in a very large gift shop. Seriously, just take my money why don’t you? I literally queened out and spent a small fortune.
It was quite the whirlwind day, so before we headed out to dinner, we got to relax and have a few cocktails in the hotel’s Executive Lounge. They do happy hour every day with little noshes and a full bar. My friends are Hilton Diamond Club members, so that was a nice extra perk.
For dinner, we went to a great traditional English pub called The Feathers; it is named to commemorate the feathers of the Prince of Wales. When the pub was built, the then Prince was to become the future Edward VII.
This wonderful step back in time has an eclectic range of ales and pub fare. As a British brand with a heritage of 150+ years, Nicholson’s Pub Collection (they have a lot) are purveyors of perfect pints and unbeatable pies. Their selection of Shepherd’s Pies include options like Chicken and Truffled Oyster Mushroom Pie, Wild Boar & Chorizo Pie, and Slow Cooked Beef Rib, just to name a few. The food was excellent and we had a few pints that paired well with our meals. We ended our first whirlwind day with a nightcap at the hotel’s very chic lobby bar, The Hedgerow.
The following day, we had breakfast in the Executive Lounge then onto a day of shopping. We began our day at the world famous department store Harrods. Being a shopaholic, going to Harrods is like my idea of going to Disney World.
Harrods is the ultimate luxury department store. There were many floors of great stores within the Harrods complex, but the places I truly loved were their gift shop and the dining areas. Their Food Hall was unbelievable. Their bakery and chocolatier areas were captivating. It truly is the world’s greatest food emporium.
We had scheduled high tea that afternoon in their Harrods Tea Room where we had a proper English Tea complete with finger sandwiches and scones, patisserie and a wide assortment of teas. I felt like a proper lady, I did.
We finished up our Harrods excursion with a glass of champagne or six at their Moet & Chandon Champagne bar. Now that was lovely and very decadent drinking several choices from the iconic maison’s full range of cuvées.
After shopping, which I did so much of on this trip, we hurried back to the hotel for a special tour we had set up in advance, Mother’s Ruin Gin Tour. We boarded a Mini Cooper and off we went to see the city and some of the best gin joints in town. Our guide, also named Anthony, was a fountain of historic information and great stores of the past, and the cocktail scene in & around London.
Our first stop on the tour was the Viaduct Tavern right in the heart of London, near St Paul’s Cathedral. They are a traditional Gin Palace with an ever-increasing variety of gins. It was built in 1865 and the interior was remodeled in 1898. It was a very cool hot spot especially for happy hour.
They have something very interesting in the center of the main bar, a room that looks like the size of an extra large phone booth that is covered all around so guests cannot see into the room. The Knock Knock Room, as it is called, was used in the 1800’s and early 1900’s for men to bring a lovely lady of the evening whom he had met in the pub for a quckie. If people were in the room for more than ten minutes, the bartender would knock on the door signaling them time to finish up; hence the name.
Our next stop on the tour was the City of London Distillery & Bar which is the home of Whitley Neill Gin. This spirit is distilled at the City of London Distillery, the first, and still the only, gin distillery in The City of London for 200 years. The selection of gins there is massive and during this tour, I discovered a newfound respect for the spirit. I used to believe gin was the devil (“gin makes you sin”). But encountering the fabulous gins available and the new tastes, I became a gin lover again. The distillery also has a Make Your Own Gin Experience where guests use their new knowledge of gin to design a gin recipe and distill your very own personalized bottle of London Dry style gin.
Our final stop of the tour was the Holborn in the luxurious Rosewood Hotel. A grand brasserie, its dining room serves British cuisine with a twist. Their Gin menu, however, is a thing of glory. It is an extensive list of gorgeously curated gins with some incredible specialty craft gin cocktails. It made for a perfect ending of this wonderful tour.
That night, we dined at Jacuzzi located in West London on High Street Kensington. People often refer to me as a maximalist and if you have ever been to my house, you will understand that term. Love things that bring me pleasure and the opulence of it all.
That is the idea behind Jacuzzi, a palazzo of pleasure. It spans four floors in a once dilapidated bank crammed with Italian treasures from Roman statues to Murano glass. Red banquettes, twisted ivy, backlit bars, exposed-brick arches, marbled windows, and dangling chandeliers are some of the immediate grandiose accents. And the food is to die for, inspired, large portions of Italian fare. It was quite the place to be seen and very trendy, a definite London hot spot.
Our last day in London was a little more laid back but we still started it off on a more formal note by going back to Harrods to their Tiffany Blue Box Cafe for none other than “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” And yes that is a thing and it is magical. Champagne, delicious bites, elegant surroundings and impeccable service are all experienced at this restaurant. It is like we were transported into the movie and I felt like Miss Audrey Hepburn.
Afterwards, we went down to Soho for a little window shopping and just walked around the neighborhood. Soho is considered the main neighborhood of gay London. It’s centrally located and surrounded by the West End theater district. We found this cute little bar with great cocktails and a fun atmosphere called Jonny Loves and had a few drinks before we did some more strolling.
The neighborhoods of London are great places to walk around and get lost in the ambiance. We came upon the upmarket department store Fortnum & Mason, another fabulous shopping destination. We were in the main store located at 181 Piccadilly in the St James’s area, where it was established in 1707 by William Fortnum and Hugh Mason. Founded as a grocery store, the store’s reputation was built on supplying quality food, and saw rapid growth throughout the Victorian era. I love that all the upscale stores have bars in them with some great craft cocktails. Just makes shopping more enjoyable.
For dinner that evening we did another traditional pub called the Blue Boar Pub which had great English dishes and a talented singer/guitarist performing. After dinner, we decided to walk around our London neighborhood and saw Westminster Abbey Church and Big Ben before calling it a night.
We were up bright and early the next morning to get to Heathrow to catch our flight to JFK in New York. This concludes Part 2 of my London trip. It was my first time crossing the pond, but I loved it so much, it definitely won’t be my last.